The gunshot before dawn pierced through the silence in the mountains, announcing to villagers that the Bunun tribe's grandest festival of the year, MaLa-Hodaigian, was about to begin.
The Wulu tribe, Bulbul, is located at 187 kilometers of Southern Cross-Island Highway with an altitude about 700 meters. Bulbul means the sound of water emerging from the ground in the Bunun language, and it is also said to mean a basin in a valley surrounded by water. When the ancestors first arrived in this area, it was a swamp on a high terrace of XinwuLü River. Herds of deer often wandered through the grass for food. The Wulu tribe was an important immigration stronghold for the Bunun people from Nantou and Hualien, and the Bunun people gradually immigrated to the Kaohsiung area from there. Nowadays, many residents in Haiduan Township were from Wulu, so many Bunun people believe that the Wulu tribe is the birthplace of the traditional culture of the Haiduan area.
As the gun fired, people wearing traditional costumes arrived at the ceremony one after another. Fathers led their little boys to the square in front of the tradition house. Starting with the youngest, the boys shot an arrow at the meat on the wall with the help of the elders. Biung (Chinese given name: Yu Jin-Long), a tribal elder, said, “Guiding our children to shoot this meat is to give them courage. Because the first thing we Bunun boys must learn from the old when they grow up is hunting!” After all little boys took the boar hind leg meat they shot, they went to the beast-bone house to celebrate with adults.
When all males in the tribe arrived at the beast-bone house in the ritual site, the priest began to prepare for the fire. Burning three types of wood, he used the smoke and the sound to pray for prosperity and a good harvest. The skulls of the boars were displayed in rows in the beast-bone house. The tribal elder, Biung, said, “Because we Bunun are a hunting tribe, we put the jaws and skulls of the boars we hunt in the house to pray to our ancestors. These are all given to us by our ancestors, not because we are good. And we also say we are hunters in front of our ancestors. This is a forbidden area, only men can enter. Once you come in, you cannot get out until the end of the ceremony. If the ancestors don’t recognize you, something might happen if you enter.”
The youth counted the number of men who participated in the ceremony, as it was considered a bad sign if there was more or not enough when distributing meat. Amidst the smoke, the tribesmen lifted up their hunting rifles and shot at the deer ears on the twigs. Whether they hit or not, every one shot once to pray for a fruitful year. After confirming that every participant had their meat, everyone grabbed a handful of millet and spread it to the beast-bone house, praying to the ancestral spirits for blessing the clan and the crops. We would still remember to offer to the ancestral spirits the next year.
Outside of the ritual site, women were not idling. They were burning charcoals and preparing the firewalking ceremony for the men returning to the tradition house square. By spreading the hot coals and stepping over them, it symbolizes the forgetting of all the pain of the past year. “Why is it necessary to firewalk? Since fire is the only thing that can bring change. After the firewalk, the ancestors would say that all is fine and bless us with a happy new year without any troubles.” Biung added.
After the firewalking, they lined up and waited for the priest’s blessing. The priest gently pressed on each one's neck, blew air into their ears, and then blessed them, one after another until all the tribesmen had received the blessing. The tribal elder Biung said, “Since the ear is our most spiritual body part, it is important to remind ourselves all the time that we should not do anything wrong. Do things from your heart. By blowing into the ears, we are blowing the souls of our Bunun into them and blessing them, reminding them not to be deaf and ignore our inner voice.”
After blowing their ears for blessing, tribal men face each other in a big circle and hold hands in front of the tradition house. They sang Pasibutbut to pray for a good harvest of millet. Pasibutbut is translated into the well-known eight-part polyphony because it sounds like there are eight parts of music. Pasibutbut is the link between the Bunun and the gods. The gradually increasing frequency is like the growth and transformation of millet. The people believe that the better they sing, the happier the god will be, and the millet will be fruitful this year.
「當老人家覺得說真好聽，達到一個高點的時候，便會把大家拉到傳統屋裡面做結束，接著在裡面唱飲酒歌、報戰功。」 布農山地傳統音樂團團長kavas(漢名：余國立) 向我們說道。
“When the elders feel that the music sounds really good and reaches the peak, they will pull everyone inside the tradition house to finish. They then sing the drinking song and report their merits.” Kavas (Chinese given name: Yu Guo-Li), the Bunun Mountain Traditional Music Chorus leader, told us.
原來，以前一位來到霧鹿的天主教神父，發現到部落裡還保留著傳統的歌謠祭儀於是在1986年召集部落老人家組成「布農山地傳統音樂團」，不僅保留傳承了傳統文化更陸續赴國家劇院與歐洲、日本等地演出，並與國際知名大提琴家大衛達伶(David Darling) 合作，結合布農族的Pasibutbut和現代大提琴樂器錄製CD專輯，將布農族的傳統歌謠推向國際舞台。 而更有不少鄰近的部落族人來到霧鹿部落來學習。
A Catholic priest who came to Wulu discovered that the tribe still preserved its traditional song rituals, so he gathered the elders to form the “Bunun Mountain Traditional Music Chorus”. They not only preserved and inherited their traditional culture but also successively performed in the National Theater, Europe, Japan, and other places. They also collaborated with the world-renowned cellist, David Darling, to record a CD album combining Bunun Pasibutbut and modern cello instruments, bringing the Bunun traditional songs to the globe. Moreover, many people from neighboring villages have come to learn from the Wulu tribe.
After the clansmen came indoors, the singing chief would lead the group to report their achievements. He sang, “Hoo-hoo-hoo, where is this handsome man from? Tell us, what is your family name? Where does he work? What are his achievements?” The basic phrase of answering is: “Hoo-hoo-hoo, I'm so happy to be here today, where am I from? What have I done? I want to tell you, my bloodline. What is my mother's last name?”
The Bunun is a brave ethnic and is one of the few native groups that does not have a chief system. Order is maintained only by the elders. Only through their everyday performance, they are approved and respected by the people. Thus, when the warriors report their merits on the hunting field, they count them very carefully. The mightier the achievement, the louder the voice, and the higher their female family members will jump. If the youths have no hunting experience, they would tell their behaviors. People are very happy to get together.
“Our singing follows our lives.” Chief Kavas said that the children in the tribe do not learn the songs by rote but listen to them on any occasion. If they have heard them, they would know them eventually. No matter when we are happy, miss our family or pray, every song is relevant to our traditional life in the village.
“I always hope that our youth will not forget our own culture no matter where they are. It's fine to learn slowly, but learn as much as you can. However, you have to remember that we cannot forget this culture. It's the wisdom inherited from our ancestors. You can have your own place with our culture! As a Bunun, you should feel honored. We have this culture, we have the tradition, we will always be in this way, always!”
The singing lingering in the valley is just like the celestial voice lost in the world. The Wulu tribe in deep mountains retains its traditional ceremony and way of life. Just like Pasibutbut rising upward and upward in each phrase, Bunun’s tradition continues to be passed down to the next generation and persists forever in this ongoing melody.